• Human hunters bagged more game than they could safely eat during the last Ice Age.
  • Rather than waste the excess meat, they fed it to wolves, which evolved into domesticated dogs over time, a new study suggests.

It’s hard to resist dogs when they beg for scraps from the table. The act offeeding leftovers to hungry canines may have jump-started dog domesticationduring the last Ice Age, new research suggests.

A study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests thathumanity’s bond with dogs began in northern Eurasia between 14,000 and 29,000years ago, when much of the Earth was covered in ice.

Plants were scarce and prey was lean during those harsh Ice Age winters. Ourhunter-gatherer ancestors could only get all 45% of the calories they neededto survive from eating lean meat, since too much can cause protein poisoning(human livers aren’t well-adapted to metabolizing protein). In the absence ofplant-based carbs, our ancestors relied on animal fat and grease to supplementtheir diet.

To get enough fat, though, hunters had to kill more lean animals like deer andmoose than they could eat in their entirety.

So Ice Age hunters fed the excess meat to wolves, according to Maria Lahtinen,the lead author of the new study and an archaeologist with the Finnish FoodAuthority.

“The wolf and human can form a partnership without competition in coldclimate. This would easily promote domestication,” Lahtinen told BusinessInsider.

The descendants of the leftover-eating wolves eventually became the firstdomesticated dogs, her study suggests.

There are plenty of benefits to domesticated dogs: They can pull sleds,protect livestock, or provide protection from other predators.

But none of those benefits became apparent until long after dogs’ wolfancestors had been domesticated. So scientists long wondered about the initialreasons for dog domestication.

The question was especially perplexing given that ancient humans and thenorthern wolves that occupied Eurasia tens of thousands of years ago subsistedon the same prey, like caribou, rabbits, and deer. It struck many researchersas unlikely that the two species would have willingly chosen to cooperatedgiven the limited food sources during the Ice Age.

“Humans have a tendency to try to eliminate other competitors,” Lahtinen said,adding, “it has never been explained before that why humans joined theirforces with a competitor.”

Before this new study, one hypothesis was that wolves were opportunisticscavengers that were so attracted to the food waste humans left behind thatthe two species eventually adapted to live alongside one another. The problemwith that thinking, however, was that Ice Age humans didn’t settle in any oneplace long enough to leave consistent, scavengeable scraps, according toLahtinen and her coauthors.

So it may be more plausible that our ancestors simply caught more prey thanthey could safely consume, and chose to satiate their fellow predators ratherthan kill them off.

That led the four-legged predators to stick closer and closer to people overtime until they evolved into dogs, a process that took place sometime between20,000 and 14,000 years ago, Lahtinen’s research suggests.

Source: Aylin Woodward Yahoo News

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